Posted this overnight, when sensible people were asleep. So, I’m pulling it back up because I think it’s significant. And because we had it first.
America is supposed to be in the throws of a widespread anti-Democratic mood, as doomsday stories of Obama’s first mid-term election – particularly post-spill – and the pull of history whisper daily.
But there’s a window of chance that in New Jersey’s 7th congressional district such tendencies are instead manifesting themselves as a broader anti-incumbent mood, that incumbent being the GOP’s Leonard Lance. Some real lack of enthusiasm among the very voters he should be counting on most. In his Primary, Lance had a record three Tea Party challengers charge at him from the right. And he won with the lowest percentage of any incumbent in the New Jersey congressional delegation – 56%. In fact, none of Lance’s three GOP primary challengers has even endorsed him since. And one of them – David Larsen – is still in contact with supporters encouraging them to “vote for conservatism, vote for change,” though it isn’t clear for whom that might be.
That might be the crack of an opening of a fighting chance for Ed Potosnak, the high school chemistry teacher who won a national Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator fellowship and went to Washington to work on policy with Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA). Potosnak, in his late thirties, is younger than Lance, but he’s also a fresh, hard-worker with progressive bona fides in a district that had its heart broken a couple times.
So, to the poll. Fred Yang of the polling firm Garin Hart Yang surveyed 400 likely voters less than a week ago (June 23-24). And despite the fact registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in the district (the Unaffiliateds kick both our butts), GOP voters were oversampled.
In indicators of an incumbent’s strength, Lance is soft. Just 31% of 7th CD voters want to see Leonard Lance reelected; 46% think it’s time to make a change and elect someone else. Nosing into those numbers you find the squishiest appraisals of Lance. Republicans: 43% reelect, 39% make a change. Independents: 24% reelect, 47% make a change.
Potosnak still has low name-recognition: 12%. But the polling suggests NJ-7 is a restless district: Without naming the actual candidates, by nearly 3-1 (55%-19%), NJ-7 voters prefer electing “new people” over reelecting “current members of Congress.” Ironically, it’s Lance’s own voters who are most pre-disposed to electing new people, by a nearly 6-1 margin. It may be possible that some of those voters still think of Lance as one of those “new people,” but given the decades-long tenure in NJ politics before Congress, that’s a stretch.
I have some concerns about a key component of the poll involving response to Lance and Potosnak by description of them. The description of Lance links him to his old boss (the high approval-rating Gov. Tom Kean) and attributes fights for fiscal responsibility to his first term in the House. But Potosnak is ID’d as a Rutgers graduate who became a scientist and teacher and started his own small business, and who has the real-world experience. It’s the insertion of that word “the” that makes the description seem leading, as well as the elimination of Lance’s NJ legislature years, which in many NJ-7 eyes were distinguished years. That said, with those descriptions placed in subjects’ minds, Potosnak zooms up to a competitive position: 47% Lance, 43% Potosnak, 10% undecided.
The appeal of Potosnak’s non-politician profile in an anti-incumbent year shows up in Potosnak’s 49%-40% lead among Independents, and by his 3-1 lead among undecideds.
On the ground here in Hunterdon where I live, it’s commonly understood that Lance’s 3 Tea Party opponents show real dissatisfaction from the right – where the money is – and that they took a chunk out of him. How big a chunk I don’t know yet. Larsen’s people are particularly energized – still. And if there are NJ-7 readers here – particularly in Somerset County – with insight into GOP NJ-7 restiveness, let us know how this race looks to you.
Ed Potosnak is marching with DFA & the Democrats in the 4th of July Parade in Lebanon, Hunterdon’s biggest summer event.